U.S. infrastructure at a Crossroads

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U.S. infrastructure received an overall C- grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in its 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.

That’s an improvement over the D+ grade U.S. infrastructure received in 2017, the last time the report was published, and the highest grade issued in 20 years. A state-by-state ASCE ranking gave Maryland an overall C grade.

According to the report, the investment gap in infrastructure nationwide has risen in the past 10 years to $2.59 trillion.

The state of the country’s infrastructure is at a crossroads, experts say.

“We have not made the investments to maintain infrastructure that in some cases was built more than 50 years ago,” ASCE Executive Director Tom Smith noted in a statement about the 2021 report card.

ASCE Report 2021The shortfall in investing in infrastructure, from ports and airports to roads and electrical grids, could potentially affect overall economic productivity and performance, many experts contend.

“As this study shows, we risk significant economic losses, higher costs to consumers, businesses and manufacturers – and our quality of life – if we don’t act urgently. When we fail to invest in infrastructure, we pay the price,” Smith said in the statement.

Much of the existing U.S. infrastructure was built in the 1960s, experts note, when the nation’s population was 194 million compared to 328 million today.

Another significant issue presented by the lack of infrastructure investment: Safety.

Engineers point out that the U.S. has many bridges that are structurally deficient as well as outdated water and wastewater systems that put the public health and safety at risk.

“Experts say that U.S. infrastructure is both dangerously overstretched and lagging behind that of its economic competitors, particularly China,” notes an April 8 article published by the Council on Foreign Relations.

The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Report ranked the United States No. 13 for infrastructure quality, placing it behind France, Germany and Japan to name a few.

As the Council on Foreign Relations notes, “Much of the discrepancy between the United States and its peers can be traced to very different funding levels. On average, European countries spend the equivalent of 5 percent of GDP on building and maintaining their infrastructure, while the United States spends 2.4 percent…China’s infrastructure spending averages roughly 8 percent of its GDP…”

The Biden Administration seeks to address the lack of investment in infrastructure with its proposed American Jobs Plan.

“It has never been more important for us to invest in strengthening our infrastructure and competitiveness, and in creating the good-paying, union jobs of the future,” a White House fact sheet on the plan states.

On June 24, President Biden announced he has agreed to a deal on infrastructure with a bipartisan group of Senators. Details of the plan remain unclear but the total cost of the plan is expected to be $1.2 trillion over eight years. The plan has also been reduced to traditional infrastructure such as transportation-related spending and broadband that a majority can rally around. It would provide about $579 billion in new investments in roads, broadband internet, electric utilities and other projects.

Details of the deal now need to be ironed out, including how to pay for it, and then debated by Congress to secure the necessary votes and move the country forward.

While previous Presidents have proposed upgrading America’s infrastructure with increased funding, the issue of how to pay for it has proved a recurring stumbling block.

The Biden Administration has proposed paying for the improvements by going after tax cheats and raising some taxes. Republicans in Congress and business groups oppose raising taxes.

It appears that an infrastructure legislation package that does not include “human infrastructure” will be passed with bipartisan support. The need to improve the nation’s infrastructure is not predicated on red or blue states or congressional districts, but on the importance of improvements to grow our economy, create jobs and provide safety for citizens.

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